Overspending can be as much a part of the holidays as latkes and caroling. While it’s easy to say “make a budget” there are ways to simplify the process and stay on track.
First, go ahead and make that budget, but think beyond your immediate household. The budget should be as broad as possible to cover all the costs of giving and festing during the holidays.
Start with gifts for family and friends but also those secret Santa gifts in the office and small gifts such as to the mail carrier, as well as the cost of wrapping paper and shipping.
This year, with things as they are with the pandemic, shipping companies are warning that an extra 250 million packages are in the flow. Note that higher late shipping costs might be coming soon, so jump on those important gifts ASAP or make a plan to deliver them another way if you can.
Be smart about deals. Price comparisons are easier than ever to make online, but don’t rely on one big e-commerce portal for all your research. Popular gifts often show up in discount stores, for instance, and you can save just driving by and picking things up. Just avoid impulse buys while you’re there.
Second, events have costs too, and that should be in your overall holiday budget. Gatherings are muted this year, but planning a big Christmas meal, baking dozens of cookies to share, extra bottles of champagne in the fridge, stringing lights up outside your home — all that adds up.
Many folks loosen their belt a bit around the table at Christmas but also around their finances. It’s very easy to dump all your holiday expenses onto plastic and think, “Well, I’ll deal with it later.”
If you think that’s likely to happen, make a plan for paying it back, even if you do it over two or three months into the New Year. Think about what you’ll give up in January and February to pay for extra spending now. That’s not fun, but doing so can keep your financial stress levels low.
A lot of parents and grandparents like to gift cash to children around the holidays. If that gift is getting on the large side for adult children, remember that the annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000 a year per recipient, per giver. A couple can give $30,000 to as many recipients as they like with no additional tax filings.
It’s also not a bad thing to communicate your desires for that money, if the amounts are large. Help your kids understand that you have goals for them, such as building financial security, saving for retirement or owning their own home.
Likewise, if you have grandkids, creating a 529 plan to pay for college is a great idea. If a child is working, help them open a Roth IRA. You can contribute to that up to the amount the kid has earned that year. That way they get to see money grow and learn about the importance of saving and investing.
Finally, of course, needs are greater than ever due to the impact of the pandemic. Charitable organizations are in need of donations of all kinds. If you have required minimum distributions (RMDs) to take, for instance, consider gifting the investments directly to charity. By doing so you can avoid the tax liability and perhaps choose to be more generous.
Last but not least, those New Year’s resolutions are dead ahead! A financial plan is a great gift for others in your life or yourself. Like a roadmap, a well-written plan keeps you on track toward your goals next year and for the years to come.